Using SharePoint as a communication center in the pharma industry

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems can not only increase the speed and productivity of business processes and lower their costs – they also offer a complete platform for internal communication. SharePoint is often the best choice for the pharmaceutical industry because of its seamless integration with MS Office as well as its consistent implementation of content standards.

That knowledge is a pharmaceutical company’s most important resource is beyond question. Nevertheless, taking advantage of this success factor is difficult. An organization with one (or several global) headquarters and a decentralized field service places high demands on internal communication. “If only we knew what we know” is a phrase that describes this situation well. The problem: information is sometimes highly structured, sometimes partly structured, and at other times unstructured. Furthermore, for security reasons, sensitive information must be restricted to specific users.

These requirements stretch the good old file server beyond its limitations. ECM systems today provide the necessary methods and means. Files can be stored in them, workflows defined, and the status of documents maintained. In short, the collaborative work of a company is organized. The procedures are always the same, irrespective of whether the business is a small company in a single location or a global corporation with thousands of employees. For companies that run part of their IT infrastructure using Microsoft (Windows Server 2008 R2 and/or Windows Server 2012), SharePoint 2013 is often the software of choice.

SharePoint makes administration easy

Its integration into Microsoft’s Office suite makes SharePoint ideal. "Using other document management systems, files have to be downloaded, opened, edited, saved, and then uploaded again. With SharePoint, documents are located in the same place as they are worked on," says Volkan Yavuz, Manager of Software Development at TWT Digital Health. "Because group and individual permissions can be easily managed, administration is very simple."

Dirk Prehn, Managing Director of Appifex GmbH, a TWT Digital Health partner on SharePoint projects, adds: "SharePoint is especially attractive for small businesses, because the basic version, SharePoint Foundation, is an integral part of the Windows Server platform. There are therefore no additional license costs. For those that don’t need an enterprise solution or are otherwise served, SharePoint can serve them well. If required, you can always switch to a paid version later."

Structuring information design – a critical point

Other systems can be connected using a connector or web services. For example, data from an SAP system can be made accessible in a user-friendly manner through SharePoint. "For one particular customer, we implemented complex processes in such a way that management requests could be made easily using SharePoint or with a Blackberry," explains Prehn about a recent project

Both emphasized the importance of good information design. "Sometimes it is difficult when business processes that have not yet been clearly documented have to be implemented in SharePoint," says Yavuz, explaining a frequently encountered problem. Prehn adds: "If the user doesn’t use the software because they have performed the procedure differently, then SharePoint cannot perform miracles." Therefore, the aim must be to adapt processes to the requirements of the users. And this can be achieved with significantly less effort in SharePoint than in other systems.

Usually the requirements of individual departments are defined during workshops with SharePoint specialists. The information design is then developed. The resulting configuration can be implemented internally or, depending on resources, outsourced to an external service provider.

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